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These Nordstrom Stylists Sell Millions of Dollars of Shoes Each Year: They Revealed Their Secrets to Success at the FN CEO Summit

Nordstrom, Nordy Pod, FN CEO Summit, Pete Nordstrom
Jeffrey Ola, Jesse James Barnholdt, Pete Nordstrom, Gregory Clark at the FN CEO Summit on Thursday
Justin Namon for Footwear News

The Nordstrom family has always valued their employees immensely. It’s fitting then that Pete Nordstrom wanted to shine a spotlight on three of the retailer’s most successful shoe sellers in front of the powerhouse crowd at the FN CEO Summit.

Nordstrom brought his “Nordy Pod” to South Beach on Thursday — and his featured guests included Jesse James Barnholdt, stylist at Nordstrom in Pittsburgh; Gregory Clark Jr., stylist at Nordstrom New York men’s store; and Jeffrey Ola, stylist at Nordstrom in Tyson’s Corner, Va.

The trio hit the summit stage to share the secrets of their success, and Mr. Nordstrom — who himself grew up on the shoe floor measuring customers’ feet with an old-fashion brannock device —  only had one stipulation: No one in the audience could try to hire them after hearing their incredible stories.

Each of the sellers has set themselves apart by combining digital and social selling with tried-and-true customer service and relationship building.

“Rather than follow a legacy model of selling, they have considered all the opportunities available to them, and applied different and interesting techniques that have allowed them to be super successful,” Nordstrom said.

Their tireless work ethic and dedication has paid off big time — they’re selling millions of dollars of shoes every year.

So how do they do it? Read on. And stay tuned for more of the conversation on an upcoming episode of The Nordy Pod.

Jesse James Barnholdt

Claim to fame: No. 1 shoe salesperson at Nordstrom; Sold $2.7 million worth of shoes in 2022. “I pinch myself because it keeps going higher and higher.”

Secrets to success: “What’s really transformed my ability to sell is digital. I started going digital, mostly with my social, back in 2015. Now I have my designer.mens Instagram account. I want to be the first person someone sees in the morning and I want to tuck them in at night. I want to be selling shoes 24 hours a day, and I also want to thank customers who are coming into the store. Originally, I was just trying to take pictures of all the new stuff that we added. Not everyone comes in every day, but everyone’s checking their phones nonstop. So I wanted to create something where someone could just scroll through and say, ‘Oh, my God, they have a new shoe in store, I need to come see it.’ And then I started selling to people [who weren’t in Pittsburgh.] It’s been phenomenal and now I wake up to 20 or 3o new messages a day. Seventy percent of my business is now digital. I haven’t met three of my top customers.”

How brands can play a role: “If someone messages me and says take a look at our shoes, I’ll pause and take a look. And maybe they be top of mind for the day or week. Reach out to the salespeople that are on the frontlines. We’re in Pittsburgh, so we don’t get tons of visitors. But you can all message me, I’m here and I’ll answer.”

Passing down his love of shoe selling to his son: “I have 5-year-old twins. About two months ago, at school, they asked my kids what they wanted to be when they grew up. My daughter said a ballerina. That’s awesome. My son said a shoe seller. That just means I love my job so much that I’m bringing it home. He sees it in such a positive light and wants to be like dad. That makes me happy and it’s fulfilling for me. I’m very grateful for this job.”

Gregory Clark Jr., Stylist, Nordstrom New York men’s store 

Claim to fame: Opened the Nordstrom men’s store in New York after a stint as Cole Haan’s top seller.

Secrets to success: “My whole approach is focusing on relationship building. So I do a lot of going to people’s houses going on closet tours, and building the relationships inside of the store. Going through the pandemic just kind of flipped everything on its ear, and forced you to look, more critically, at how you do your job. When COVID first hit in New York, I started reaching out to customers just to check in on them and their mental health. When we started transitioning out of COVID, all those people I reached out to [resurfaced], and I had a major increase in my business.”

How brands can play a role: “Continue to speak with us and communicate with us because we’re on the front lines. We can we can push your brands further as well as ours. Just last week, a brand came in. They have a new cap-toe Oxford. It hasn’t been performing well as we’ve been testing it. So I [told them that I think] we need to change all of the shoe laces because of the positioning. The thickness of the laces doesn’t sit well.”

How relationships pay off: “Last October, I had a customer come in and talk about a major issue that her husband was experiencing with fit. They always have problems finding the correct shoe for him. So I measured his foot and noticed that he had been wearing a 13 and should have been wearing the 14. So I brought out a few shoes and one of them was actually a 13 and they wanted to go with it. But I was insistent [that it wouldn’t work.] I will do my best to try to find it for you. And as I went to different people in our company to try to help me get the size, but unfortunately we didn’t have it. So I went to the brand and I purchased the shoe myself, and then I sent it to the customer’s home. As a thank you, she referred one of her friends to me in January. [The friend] has become my No. 1 customer.” (A single sale to that customer was a whopping $90,000.)

Jeffrey Ola

Claim to fame: “I used to be in the restaurant business as a manger for Bob Evans. One year, I forgot my birthday. I knew that was the time for me to transition to something else and take my talents elsewhere. My uncle said, ‘Come join me at Nordstrom and try it out.’ In six months, I was able to get promoted to an assistant general manager. In 2018, I started my Instagram page. Two years in, I did a little over $2 million in sales.”

How great service can be applied to any business: “Flipping pancakes and selling shoes is totally different, but what I did was take what I had learned it and applied it. I enjoy offering service and making people feel good.”

When it’s not just about selling:  “A customer I’ve been working with for the last five years came in last year to tell me about the new, beautiful home she built. And she immediately started crying. She decided … to tell me about her recent divorce, and everything that was happening, and how she used my Instagram page as an escape from reality. And then it all kind of started making sense because she will come in for an appointment and stay for an hour, two hours, just sitting around, enjoying my company and watching me take care of other customers. She was going through a really tough time. But it gave me a different perspective on why I do what I do.”

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FN CEO Summit: Nordstrom's Top Shoe Sellers Share Tips for Success
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